Saturday, October 30, 2004

A homestay that's less 'home' than 'stay'

Well it finally rained in paradise. Both literally and figuratively.

I've decided to move out of my host family's apartment. I can't handle living with them any longer. It was never really a huge problem, but just a bunch of little things that added up. The biggest reason I'm leaving is because they're never here and therefore I don't have the advantages of a host family. It took me so long to figure out I wasn't happy because when they're here, they're great. And I told myself that it was cool that they weren't here a lot because then I had my freedom. But now I get more the impression that they just simply don't care about me. Which then leads me to wonder what their motivations for having an exchange student are. I really think I'm just a cash cow to them.

The straw that broke the camel's back was on Thursday when I returned home to find a maid cleaning the bathroom for the first time in two months (except once when I did it). I came into my room, and there were muddy dog prints all over my floor (we don't have a dog), and I realized that the day my host brother came in my room and said, "oh, sorry, I didn't think you were here," wasn't just a one-time thing. All the sudden all the little things like having to hide my shampoo so that they wouldn't use it and the fact that there is rarely fresh food (the bread is always hard as a rock because they don't believe in plastic and they leave stuff out all the time) and that they are never here, exploded into a realization that this is way not the way it's supposed to be. 

The next day I went to Centre Oregon and there happened to be a furnished apartment that would become available at the end of November. It's a block to the tramway and a block to two bus lines and is in walking distance of at least three friends' places. It'll be 351 euro all included as opposed to the 530 I was paying here (oh yeah, we just got the heat turned on too... it's been cold...) and receiving practically no benefit. I'm stoked.

But first, I have to notify my family a month in advance that I will not be staying here any longer.

I just gave the letter to my host-dad and he did exactly what I thought he would do. Kind of a "we'll see about that" attitude. He thinks I'm stuck here, paying them a ridiculous amount of money every month until the end of the year. Well, considering that they leave constantly and it's well-documented how disgusting it is here, I don't think they'll win. I just hope it doesn't turn into a big legal deal like it would in the States. At the least, it's going to make for a very shitty month.

Friday, October 22, 2004

brain = pudding

Well, that's what happens after two solid 6.5-hour days of French classes, especially following a three-day weekend hanging out with only French-speakers. We'll start at the beginning.

A friend of mine was moving out of his place in Toulouse, a college town about four hours southwest of Lyon. Joyous at the chance to get out of this crazy town I haven't left in the last two months, I went down to help him. Toulouse is good for just about a day of tourism, so I'm glad I wasn't there for much longer. There's a cute little outdoor, cobblestone mall and a pretty park or two, but that's about it. The weather was in the lower 70s, which, being almost November and coming from dreary Oregon, just about blew my mind. But it was really comfortable, so I wasn't too upset.

Saturday night I went out with a big group of Gabonese to celebrate my friend's last day in Toulouse. The whole thing was totally awesome. First we went around the dorms and knocked on all his friends' doors and convinced them to go out, even though most of them were still hung over from the night before. We stayed out until 3:30 a.m. dancing and it was a total blast. 
It's totally hilarious how Africans dance, or at least the Africans I know. It's completely awesome. They make a circle and all just kinda dance and then someone'll go in the middle and do their best and everyone gives them props. The funniest part is when a guy and a girl dance all sexily in the middle and everyone just goes W-I-L-D. They'll frame the girl's ass with their hands or get right up next them and look at just how closely they're dancing with an incredulous look on their faces, like they can't possibly believe how cool that is. It's so awesome how into it they are.

My classes this week weren't terrible, and I think that's all you can really expect from school. I like my teachers, except my two elective teachers, but we'll get to them later, and the lessons are relatively interesting. I'm actually surprised how after 6.5 solid hours of class with only 25 minutes of break times I don't have an intense desire to bury myself in English. But, at the same time, I am writing this, so I guess this counts as French de-tox. 

But for all that, am I getting better at French? Hmm.... well, like I've said before, I have good days and bad days. Today and yesterday were pretty good days. Sunday was a crappy day; I felt like I couldn't put together a single complete sentence, and I don't think I did that day. But days like that are when my brain decides to make me think through everything I say. Other days, like today, I'll just say something and have no idea how I knew how to say that.

My two elective teachers both have something that rubs me the wrong way. Part of it, I think, is that they both know English and like to let me know that. It's getting really annoying when people translate simple words for me that I already understand just to prove they know English. I want to remind them that I know French better than they know English, but I don't know how to say that. ;-)
Anyway, being The American definitely has its ups and downs. It's cool because you almost always feel special, but it's taxing because there's so many things American over here that people talk about, you can't possibly be an authority on everything. For instance, the fact that we have an electoral college system is frequently talked about here. Unfortunately, I don't really know how it works and I don't really know anybody else who does either. But I got in two conversations about it today alone and felt totally useless to offer any insight as to why Americans have such a crazy way of electing someone who, I feel more and more the longer I'm here, is seen as the leader of the world.

Before I go, one last rather interesting thing. They're coming out with a homosexual-only television station here and it's caused a sort of debate. There aren't any other exclusive/community-based stations here and it's making people talk about whether Catholics or Muslims should be allowed to have their own station too, or if it's too exclusionary. The only reason I really find this new PINK TV station interesting is that they haven't thought of it yet in America. Lifetime, Spike TV, even the Golf Channel: the only logical conclusion is Queer TV. 

By the way, I assume everyone is familiar with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a show with five gay guys who take over the life of a straight guy for a day and make him into a semi-functional, relatively attractive and classy human being. I saw the same thing here, only with French people. Let me emphasize this: it was *exactly* the same, only with French people. The five gay guys were dressed and acted just like their American counterparts, right down to the ditzy, tall, blonde fashion guy and the striped-shirt-and-glasses-wearing culture guy. It really creeped me out. It creeped me out even more than thinking about those poor voice actors sitting in a dubbing booth somewhere imitating Katie Holmes panting when she runs...

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Settling in

Whew. Alright. What have I been up to while not writing in my journal?

Well, classes finally started, which is nice to finally have a set schedule. Also, I'm in a fairly good level. There's 19 groups of students, divided in numerical order by proficiency in French. Therefore, the first group knows practically no French and the 19th knows the most. I'm in the 16th, which really surprised me, but I'm able to follow everything in class and contribute, so I think it's the right level for me. My favorite aspect of the class though is that there are people from about a dozen different countries. Yesterday, I sat next to a girl from Bosnia-Herzegovinia and today I made friends with a German and an Estonian. I impressed a few Japanese with my shitty imitation of their language and I'm hoping to make friends with the girl from Moscow so I can practice my Russian.

Speaking of Russian, with my Russian classes, that makes a little less than 19 hours of classes per week. Not terrible. And I don't have class Wednesdays or Fridays, so that's rad. Then I find out this week what is going on with the internship at the newspaper. Apparently there's all this paperwork to do before I can start, because the French love bureaucracy, even more than Americans. But I'm kinda thinking it'll only be a few hours per week, I'm not sure though.

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I went to a football (soccer) game on Friday. That was interesting. We won 4-0, which is an amazing score in football. But the game didn't interest me as much as the spectators. To start, the entire floor, seats, everything were covered in at least two inches of shredded-advertisement confetti that people would pick up once in a while, through some signal unknown to me, and toss it in the air. That was pretty fun. The other thing to mention is that the cheerleaders were male with a platform and a loudspeaker and would actually lead cheers and direct the crowd. I told my friend that in America the cheerleaders are only ever girls and just prance around in short skirts. "Oh yeah?!" he said, "that'd be pretty cool. But it'd be distracting, huh?"

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I finally talked with my brother two nights ago after not hearing from him for two months, and guess what?!? He's getting married!! That's what happens when you don't talk to your sis' for two months: go off, propose to a girl. My older brother living a married life, can you picture it? 
But I kid, I think it's great. I really like his fiancée, Emily, the few times I've met her, and I think he's making a good choice. The date is the 11th of June, so I'll be back stateside for about a week around then, so everyone mark your calendars. I'm still pretty gung-ho about this Russia thing though, so I'll still be gone for the summer....

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Learning Russian through French from a German

Yesterday was my Russian class. First, I must introduce you to the joys of the French university system. It's run much more like a summer camp than an American university. Schedules don't come out until the week of classes and even then students have to watch the bulletin boards around campus to make sure their classes didn't switch rooms or times unexpectedly. Schedules are still made in a similar way to the one my mom told me about back in the days before Internet. An insane scramble from building to building to get the classes you need and a schedule that usually sucks.

Thankfully, I only had to do this for one class, second-year Russian. The first day of class we arrive to find that this time doesn't work for the professor and we have to organize a time between all of us that does work. Strangely, it turned out to be just a half-hour later on the same day, but it took us most of the class period to figure that out. The other crazy aspect of this class is that it's only one-hour per week, there are no textbooks (the French government has a law against forcing students to buy books) and somehow French students learn a language. 

The class consists of three of us students from Centre Oregon, and three French students. As far as I can tell so far, the class has basically no structure. The professor just chats with us. By that I mean she speaks rapid-fire Russian at us and expects responses. The worst is when she melanges French, Russian and sometimes English, forcing our already-tired brains to instantaneously look up words, spoken in a thick German accent, through a lexicon of three languages.

She started class yesterday by asking us to tell who we are. I said I was studying Journalism. She then asked me things like what I plan to do with my journalism degree and how old I was when I first wrote an article and what it was about. These are incredibly complicated subjects that require future and past tense, which I only covered briefly five months ago. In fact, Russian in general has been vastly put out of my mind for the last five months. So to dive back into it with no refresher is... troubling. And so, I thought, I must be in the wrong level.

Then she turns to the French students and asks stuff like, what's your major, where do you live, how old are you, etc. These questions, I can understand and respond to. The rest of the class goes like this. She continually starts asking questions with Jennifer, the other American, and me and ends with the French girl who's had six years of Russian and twenty minutes to prepare a response. By the end of class I'm really angry that this woman is not helping me at all by asking questions she must know are ridiculously, advanced for my level and just frustrating me. I'm seriously considering taking private classes from a flier I found at the bookstore. It's gotta be better, right?

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